It Would Be A Remake Where The Focus Is On "The Villains"
One of the prequel series' (we'll keep using that term because it's simple) biggest successes was how it gradually flipped the focus from man to apes, with each film spending less time on the human-side on the story and a lot more embroiling itself in Caesar's personal fight. This was highlighted in War where Woody Harrelson's reasoning for preserving humanity was, while dark, instinctively relatable - he only appeared as an antagonist because we'd been sided with Caesar for so long.
It would be fascinating to have this taken through to completion and have the original story of a displaced astronaut discovering the destruction of their home told from the ape perspective. We in part got this in Escape from the Planet of the Apes, where three chimpanzees turned up in 1970s America, although even then we were primarily on the side of the arrivals. At this point in the franchise we'd be following the natives; instead of being a nefarious politician hiding a dark secret, Dr. Zaius would essentially be the main character.
But it wouldn't be a refocused remake either. Whoever makes it could definitely have fun with parallels and references (you could even have Andy Serkis play Cornelius, a nod to Roddy McDowell's dual role), but the way the prequels have advanced and mutated the themes of belief and equality would lead to something wholly different. The society presented needn't be the one-set caveman village, which would push the skills of the performers and artists on the film, advancing the work done so far to make a new sort of sci-fi landscape. Definitely, with the Simian Flu in existence, it's a harsher future for any returning humans - a crew isn't all going to survive. Going back to Pierre Boulle's original novel for some things would definitely also be an option, although its futuristic society is a step away from what audiences are used to and - spoilers - isn't set on Earth.
About The Twist
Which brings us to another concern: surprise. What made Planet of the Apes such an ironclad classic was the final shocking reveal that we've been on Earth all along. It's a truly majestic moment, with the Statue of Liberty slowly revealed as the hard-baked cynic Taylor breaks down upon discovering that his constant dismissives of humanity were far more true and close to home than he realized. It's such an iconic moment Fox doesn't even try to hide it - the moment adorns every box set and the prequel trilogy takes it as writ. This is what makes doing a remake such a tricky proposition. How do you recapture something so expected? That was the final nail in Tim Burton's version, which threw out a needlessly convoluted shocker in a bid to be different.
But is this really a problem? Rise, Dawn and War have shown that you can make movies in this series that feed on the ideas raised in the 110 minutes before Lady Liberty turns up that don't require big shockers. What a remake could instead play up is the dramatic irony of the oblivious astronaut being home, framing that moment from a superior vantage point. And if you do want a shocker, there is one right there in Boulle's text. The original novel is told as a message in the bottle found by astronauts, who in the final bookend are revealed to be chimps who immediately dismiss the idea of an intelligent human. It may be on the corny side, but would be a pretty distressing final beat.
Although if we're defending the idea of the remake, perhaps to most pertinent reasoning is something simpler. While Matt Reeves has said Bad Ape and the other colonies he alludes to is the clear future setup, across the full three movies the most explicit seeding was the missing spaceship, ripe for a future return; in Rise, there was a TV report of the launch of the Icarus space mission (the name of Heston's ship), which was later revealed to have been lost. There is already a pre-existing plot point to allow this to happen, why not use it?
So, it's evident there actually is worth in taking this route. The question then becomes "why next?" Why take such a leap forward all of a sudden?
- War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) release date: Jul 14, 2017